Written by The Heloni Team | June 1, 2020
Athens has many squares, piazzas, plazas, or in Greek ‘platies’. You can call them as you wish. They do come in different sizes and shapes and with different degrees of greenness and benches but they all serve the same purpose. They bring people together. They are one of the distinctive characteristics of Athens and one of the most beloved ones too. Almost all districts have the main square, and sometimes even smaller neighborhoods within the district have their own little squares and sometimes it scales down even more where a small collection of houses feel like they have their own little square with their own kiosk, pharmacy, and playground. Squares usually house the most important amenities of the neighborhood, such as pharmacies, bakeries, shops, and cafes but sometimes also include public institutions like various offices and kinder gardens. On a general rule, it is always of mixed-use, there is a bit of everything, our favorite kiosk, the morning bakery, one of many banks, a utility office, the slow post office, the neighborhood stray, the cafe with the best coffee and always the last minute life saving mini market. Here are just 4 of the many squares of Athens which require a visit.
Monastiraki square is the heart of the center of Athens and one of the most characteristic squares to see where you can acquire incomparable experience. So what is it really? It is urban: take a seat to watch skaters, the street dancers, the beggars, the students, the tourists. It is a trade: Shops leak from all the alleyways connected to the square, left or right, straight ahead, back and forth, north or south, in all directions you will find clusters of small stalls selling furniture, clothing, jewelry, vintage, carpets, souvenirs, shoes, decorative items, tools and anything else that rides your imagination. Do not be afraid to haggle. It is flavor: you pick up aromas and sounds of sizzling and around each corner are traditional (also not) restaurants where a gustatory experience awaits you, like the most famous kebab in Athens "Savvas" or the terrific Indian souvlaki in “Mirch” just down the road. It is rude: people are hustling and bustling to the metro, to work, to friends, to the museum, to the late appointment. It is musical: African drumbeats are echoing in the distance from some buskers. It is colorful: fresh fruits and vegetables are being sold by an old man across the metro, they look delicious and huge just like his commentary. It is vibrant: people are on the terraces and rooftops listening to their own tunes, drinking their own coffees in the endless number of charming cafes and bars around the square like “360 degrees” or “A for Athens”. It is dirty: sometimes you do not know where the streets end and the buildings begin. It is old: the dome of Mosque Tzisdarakis from 1759 catches your eye while the columns from Hadrian’s Library from 132 A.C hover in the background. It is culture: exotic languages are flowing through your ears. It is new: you step on the recently renovated pavement blocks of marble, carved stone, and cast iron from various parts of Greece symbolizing the Greek people. It is unique: like an endless transit spot and an endless hotspot at the same time. Monastiraki square is a must. Take your time to explore all its intricacies.
Aghia Eirini Square is on the move day and night and on all days of the week. It has much to offer from funky bars on street terraces to good bistros with creative interiors. The main square has the Church of Agia Eirini, built-in Greek Orthodox style with Byzantine influences, which is what the square is named after. The church used to be one of the most popular churches in the city before the Metropolis on Mitropoleon Street was built in 1842 and some people still call Aghia Eirini “the Cathedral”. The square is also surrounded by some lovely examples of neoclassical buildings, some renovated, some crumbling, and some you might even find on Airbnb. Agia Eirini is one of the most popular hotspots of the city center. Try Tailor-made for your morning artisan coffee. You cannot miss ZAF for a brunch appointment that is just mouth-watering or quick souvlaki from Kostas Souvlaki Shop. Have another coffee break in the atmospheric Booze cafe. Enjoy a good fusion meal in Mama Roux or a sexy pizza in the School Pizza bar. Once the night kicks in, relax a little more in the hip Osterman or grab a cocktail in Rooster.
In the center of Athens, just a short walk from Kolonaki and Panepistimiou district is the infamous Exarcheia Square. The square is a melting pot for people from all walks of life, whether punks or students, musicians or anarchists, politicians or grandparents. The square is as much as a bystander as a friend for all the colorful tensions of lives in transit. The district of Exarcheia grew in the late 19th century, first as craftsmen and merchant district and then as a center for students due to the proximity to the University of Athens. Now the district is known as a place for its radical political and intellectual activism and as well accommodating socialist, anarchist, and anti-fascist groups. It is also known as an art hub for hosting many concerts and theatrical shows (especially in the square). Exarcheia square and its adjacent alleyways have much to offer, from bars with rock music to small restaurants with homemade magic, from minuscule dusty book shops to vinyl vintage records, and from an array of interesting street gravity to fascinating decaying architecture. Exacheia and its square is a playground of multiple dimensions and leaves much room for exploration and discovery.
If you are there in the morning and you need a boost, The Coffee Tree has a rich selection of artisan blends. Once you are there and you love drowning in nostalgia, check out the vintage shops Yesterday’s Bread for some vintage dresses or Hotsy Totsy for a peculiar collection of second-hand clothes. Fancy a treat? Then off you go to Ama Laxei on Kalidromiou street, a restaurant with a picturesque courtyard of trees. Still have time for a drink, then head down to The Black Cat Bar (Mavros Gatos) on Koletti for some Exarcheia originality and style.
The central square of the district of Nea Smyrni is a large and lively square with a neighborhood feel. It is the heart of the district and is surrounded by the districts’ main shops, cafes, restaurants, pharmacies, and bakeries and due to the size and space available, many official municipal ceremonies and other cultural and social events take place here. The district of Nea Smyrni was first founded by the refugees that fled the Asia Minor catastrophe of 1922. Reminiscent of the old Smyrni, the district was modeled after the memories of the first inhabitants with little garden houses and some larger mansions but with the future generations in mind, the district was slowly covered with the 70s and 80s apartment blocks for the growing populace. However, the square with its open green space, wide pavements, playground, open-air gym, open-air theater, numerous benches under the pine trees, and refreshing fountain attracts people from all ages and backgrounds and fosters a sense of togetherness, a common home. Agia Fotini Square is a very nice place to take a short walk and enjoy a drink in one of the many cafes in the plaza and experience the daily life of the Greek away from the business of the city center. The square will be a smooth introduction to Greek suburban district. All Heloni Apartments are centrally located and the following "platies" are not far from any of our properties. We not only urge our guests to take a stroll to the following landmarks, but we suggest them to all visitors coming to Greece for a more authentic appreciation of Athenian neighborhoods. Each "platia" has its own charming personality and each one brings together one of the many sides of Athens.